LYT vs. AFI Fest 2010: Marking Out For Marky Mark

My oh my, that REAR WINDOW is a classic. Hitchcock is a genius who simply does not make wrong steps. James Stewart is priceless, in his greatest role possibly ever. Cinema heaven.

I didn’t actually see REAR WINDOW; not the other day at AFI Fest, or ever (I did want to this time, but had writing to catch up on). But I know from experience that if I had, and had come away with anything other than the opinion above, I’d be ripped a new one. I know this based on having seen, and been hugely disappointed in, NOTORIOUS a few AFI fests back. Or L.A. Film Fests, I forget which. Or am I keeping you in...dun dun dun...suspense?

  The Fighter

I’ve been criticizing AFI Fest a lot for what it has gotten wrong. But it is time to give credit for what it did way right. Announcing a “secret screening” of THE FIGHTER in the Grauman’s Chinese, and letting pretty much everyone in was a cool thing to do, and a great way to debut a film that Paramount clearly has awards-level confidence in. I’ve never been invited to one of these “secret” shows before, but all press were welcome. They packed the house, and I didn’t even notice any crazy street people at this one. (No, Brent Simon is not a crazy street person. How dare you even think that!)

I do want to point out, Grauman’s, that $10.10 for a small soda and small popcorn is pushing it. Once you break the $10 mark, I think you risk losing customers. By comparison, a similar combo is $6.75 at Laemmle theaters; $4 if you’re a “senior.”

With the movie scheduled to start at 9:30, the lights went down at a nice, pretty prompt 9:35. And then out comes Mark Wahlberg! “I haven’t seen a crowd like this since I performed with the funky bunch!” Cute, Mark, but if true, that means you aren’t attending enough of your own premieres.

He says he came out tonight because he felt bad for having cheated to win at an AFI-sponsored golf tournament a couple years back, for which the prize was DVDs of their hundred greatest movies of all time. This movie, THE FIGHTER, has been a labor of love for him that he worked many years to bring to the big screen. He worked so hard on it that if anyone doesn’t like it, he feels like he owes them two hours, so he’ll come to their house and do odd jobs.

Wahlberg, like many actors here at the fest both famous and not, appears to have a disproportionately huge head in person. Somehow not on the screen, though. Do the ten pounds normally added by the camera to your body get subtracted from your head?

Head, body, head. Once the rest of you all actually see the movie, I can make a joke about that, or something. Suffice it to say that it’s a signature punch combo in THE FIGHTER, sort of like this flick’s “wax on, wax off.”

Right of the top, let us note that all Oscar chances for Ben Affleck’s THE TOWN have effectively been kayoed, as of now. Lower class Massachusetts is depicted so much more entertainingly here that nobody’s gonna remember the other one. The hairsprayed-harridans who chain-smoke through this flick put Blake Lively’s impersonation of same to shame, and while Wahlberg and Christian Bale are significantly better-looking than the real-life characters they play (as seen in a funny video over the end credits), they’re also more fun as a team than Affleck and Jeremy Renner.

About that “true story” stuff: To be perfectly honest, knowing a movie is based on a true story usually makes me want to see it LESS, unless it’s a documentary, because I always imagine that the filmmaker will be more obliged to follow an existing tale rather than make up whatever he/she wants. But then you get a movie like RAGING BULL...

No, really. You get a movie like RAGING BULL, right here. It’s David O. Russell’s version of that exact formula, more or less. Only with two main boxers.

Dickie (Christian Bale) is the biggest celebrity to emerge from Lowell, Mass., as of 1993. A boxer whose claim to fame is that he once knocked down (as opposed to knocked OUT) Sugar Ray Leonard, he’s being followed by an HBO crew for what he says is a documentary on him and his career, though it’s actually a documentary about crack smoking, something he’s been doing on and off for years, while his family remained in willful denial.

Brother Mickey (Wahlberg) is also a fighter, trained by his brother on those occasions when big bro actually remembers to show up. Time is running out for him to make it big, and he’s widely viewed as a stepping stone for other fighters, an impression in part earned by the way his brother mismanages his career and puts him in fights with inappropriate opponents (like an ex-con twenty pounds of muscle heavier).

Mickey needs to decide whether or not his brother is a plus or a minus – family is everything in this working-class town, and yet his brother’s battles with the law threaten to suck him in as well. And the most promising offers he gets tend to be contingent upon Dickie being out of the picture.

As fun and character-driven as the story is, however, casual moviegoers shouldn’t worry – things do eventually build up to that big, all-or-nothing fight...and it delivers. All of the professional boxing matches are shot as if on older TVs, with resolution lines conspicuous. Could this become the new touchstone that replaces the “Super-8 home movie footage” cliché so common in movies up till now?

Wahlberg hasn’t been good in a long time, so it’s okay to be suspicious, but he’s rarely better than in the hands of Russell (whose THREE KINGS, lest we forget, is what convinced me that Marky Mark actually had thespianic chops at all). Bale may have chosen the perfect role to follow up on his infamously mocked TERMINATOR set tirade – his Dickie is charming, funny, and dangerous, a guy who can talk you into anything even though you know it will almost certainly end badly, probably due to his throwing a tantrum and hitting someone.

Amy Adams wears a see-through bra in one sex scene – honestly, I wonder why bother to do that? Presumably she somehow feels that means it isn’t nudity, but if you can see everything anyway, all it does is make the scene more artificial.

Melissa Leo, though, in the role of Mickey and Dickie’s mom (say hi to her for me) impresses the most, because I didn’t know it was her. Side by side with WELCOME TO THE RILEYS, in which she’s 100% different, this is an acting one-two punch equal to anything Wahlberg throws onscreen.

THE FIGHTER comes pre-packaged as an Oscar movie, but its best trait is that it’s still a rousing, crowd-pleasing underdog sports movie that hits all the marks, while at the same time being full of dark humor and character stuff that you’d want from Russell (as opposed to a SECRETARIAT, which hits formulaic marks but offers little else aside from a calculated comedic turn by John Malkovich). There’s a pointed scene in which Mickey goes to an art-house theater to watch BELLE EPOQUE, and falls asleep...Russell knows you don’t want that.

It is also, despite Darren Aronofsky’s name attached as producer, not a copy of THE WRESTLER with padded gloves. It has a whole lot more laughs, for one thing.

Here comes your pullquote, publicists, if you want it: Count me in as a lover of THE FIGHTER.

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